Using technology without losing foundational skills

Thank you to everyone for the feedback regarding my interview on ABC radio last week.
For those who missed it please see the link below:   

I thought I would write a summary of what I was talking about and expand on it.
So this blog is to help parents support their children to build knowledge and understanding of technology, without missing the foundational skills needed for development!

What changes am I noticing in children’s skills?
Many children (not all, but many) are having a lot of difficulty with fine motor skills, handwriting, posture when sitting, as well as paying attention in the classroom. These are areas that have always been areas of need for SOME children however the prevalence of these concerns appear to be increasing, especially in young children.

Why is it increasing? –
I haven’t done a formal research project on this, but from my clinical observations and clinical knowledge I can report that when I question the parents of children who are of high concern (abnormally high concern for their overall development level- not children with special needs) the majority state that their child’s “toy” of choice is the IPad or Tablet or other electronic device or they use these technology devices for prolonged periods of time. We will refer to these as ‘devices’ for the rest of the Blog.

The symptoms of these children are often:

  • Difficulty sitting and attending to a story book being read
  • Immature grasp (possibly using a fisted grasp on the pencil)
  • Difficulty with age appropriate play
  • Understanding of concepts (size, colour, groupings) but unable to expand on these skills
  • Very poor fine motor skills compared to their knowledge level
  • Retained primitive reflexes
  • Very poor co-ordination
  • Poor muscular strength
  • Poor sitting posture
  • Poor muscle endurance
  • Poor social skills

I am not saying the increased use of technology is the ONLY cause of these symptoms but it is certainly a significant contributor.

What can we do as Parents to embrace technology but retain our children’s essential foundational skills for learning?

Technology is a part of our society and shouldn’t be completely ignored or banned – WE NEED IT, and our CHILDREN NEED IT. However our children need to learn how to use it effectively along with other toys and social interaction.

The ability to use devices shouldn’t be at the expense of our basic foundational skills!

Here are a few tips for parents to help them use devices in a more effective way:

  • LIMIT exposure to phones, Ipads, Tablets & screen technology. Encourage play and ensure your child has movement and gross motor activities for at least an hour a day.
  • When your child is using a device – sit with them and talk about what they are seeing and doing.
  • Extend the games they play on the Ipad to the real world. For example if they like watching children’s cooking clips on you tube – Help them make one themselves to watch on the TV! Talk about the preparation of cooking, the words they can use to describe the procedure of cooking, and let them complete the steps of making cupcakes or chocolate balls.
  • Continue the games with real toys – If your child likes puzzles or shape sorters or memory on the Ipad, make the same game to play in reality with actual objects so they learn to manipulate ‘things’ rather than a screen.
  • Use a stylus rather than the finger if completing letter tracing, dot to dots, colouring etc. This will help to develop the fine motor skills needed for pencil tasks.
  • Ensure your child is using their index finger (with the other fingers tucked into their hands) to swipe the screen rather than their middle finger. This helps with finger isolation and will keep the index finger as the ‘pointing’ finger which is contrast to what I am seeing where many children are pointing with their middle finger.
  • Take turns using the device (short and succinct) – this could be between yourself and the child or between two or more children. This teaches turn taking and allows the eyes to refocus on other objects between turns. Turn taking should be used within one app to ensure the concept of “sharing.”
    e. One person’s turn is to put in 1 piece of the puzzle together the next person’s turn is to do the next piece of puzzle. This will keep young children’s attention, teaches them to wait, take turns and work together co-operatively with each other.
  • Do NOT use the ‘device’ at meal times. Meal times are for social interaction and building self-care/fine motor skills.

Many parents have asked me “how do I take it off them?” – to put it bluntly you are the parent, you take it!
You don’t let your children eat chocolate for dinner and ice-cream for breakfast everyday because you know it’s not good for them – prolonged use of technology isn’t good for them either and we need society to see that!

Here are some ideas to try to limit your child’s technology use:

  • Counting down when it is getting close to time to finish – this helps the child finish what they are doing before you take it.
  • Saying “last turn” when playing  a short game– again to prepare the child it is going away
  • Give them the criteria before they start – i.e. you are allowed 2 turns of your favourite game
  • Only leave enough charge on it for a short period of time – then it will shut off (for older children – hide the charger)
  • Use a locking app that will lock the device after a certain period of time
  • Do NOT tell your child your password to your device so they cannot get into it without you knowing
  • Keep it in a place they cannot reach or access
  • Engage them in something equally as fun or even more fun – play with your child, read them books, children will move onto something more enticing when it is offered!Once you choose a formula for how the device is used, and you stick to it, your child will follow it without complaint – children understand structure and rules –  apply it to the use of technology as well.

One of Steve Austin’s last questions was about the effects on adults – so here are a few tips for ADULTS to help us maintain our foundational skills!

  • Jump on the colouring in bandwagon! Colouring is a great way of keeping up our fine motor skills as well as helping our mindfulness and decrease stress.
  • Use a stylus on touch screens to maintain finger muscles
  • Use your index finger to swipe touch screens (not your middle finger.)
  • Put your phones and devices down, out of sight or on silent so you don’t have a permanent connection to them 24hours a day.
  • Write a list or letter every now and then to maintain your handwriting skills.

We don’t know the long term effects of this amount of technology being used in our society. Time will give us the answer to this but the short term effects we are seeing could potentially lead us to a world where there are significant changes to the human brain and our overall functioning